Politics
1:32 pm
Tue August 30, 2011

Court refuses to hear Kilpatrick's book case

We hear this from MPRN's Rick Pluta:

The Michigan Court of Appeals has refused to hear the case of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who is trying to shield book sale earnings from being seized as part of his restitution to the city.

Wayne County Judge David Groner established an escrow account to capture any profits from Kilpatrick's memoir, "Surrendered! The Rise, Fall and Revelation of Kwame Kilpatrick."

The set-aside money will go toward paying the city of Detroit's $860,000 restitution tab. And as Michigan Radio's Sarah Cwiek reported, the money will also go toward a bill of a little more than $15,000 from the state of Michigan to pay for Kilpatrick's prison time.

Education
1:08 pm
Tue August 30, 2011

Grand Rapids trying to get high school dropouts back in the classroom

Officials in Grand Rapids are trying to change some high school dropouts into high school graduates.
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

A new program launching this fall in Grand Rapids will try to help high school dropouts earn both their high school diplomas and some college credit.  The program is a joint effort of Grand Rapids Public Schools and Grand Rapids Community College. 

College president Steven Ender says they’re reaching out to 16 to 19 year olds who otherwise would have a hard time finding a future in Michigan’s economy.  

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Housing
1:00 pm
Tue August 30, 2011

Home prices up slightly nationally, but still down in Detroit

A graph showing the annual percent change in home prices from 1998 through the middle of 2011. See the bubble bursting?
S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices

Data released today by the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices show that through June, home prices nationally were back to their early 2003 levels.

But home prices in Detroit were at pre-2000 levels. The Detroit market was down 6.6 percent when compared to the previous year.

That put's Detroit in a bad category along with some "sunbelt" cities, according to S&P/Case-Shiller:

At the other extreme, those which set new lows in 2011 include the four Sunbelt cities – Las Vegas, Miami, Phoenix and Tampa – as well as the weakest of all, Detroit. These shifts suggest that we are back to regional housing markets, rather than a national housing market where everything rose and fell together.

The Detroit Free Press quoted a statement from Patrick Newport, a U.S. economist with IHS Global Insight:

"Detroit, where prices have dropped nearly 50% since peaking in late 2005, remains, by far, the weakest market,” he said. “Detroit avoided a big run-up in housing prices during the boom years, but was hit hard by the recession."

Environment
11:38 am
Tue August 30, 2011

Simple business model connects chefs to locally grown food

At the meet-up, Barbara Jenness shares some new cheese from her Dancing Goat Creamery.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

Michigan farmers grow the most diverse crops of any state besides California. Agriculture is Michigan’s 2nd largest industry and it’s growing. But many Michigan farms aren’t big enough to distribute through grocery stores.

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Commentary
11:19 am
Tue August 30, 2011

Proposal A Revisited

These are tough times for Michigan’s Public Schools, which by and large, have done a superb job educating our citizens since we became a state nearly two hundred years ago.

Statewide, the schools are suffering from a series of crippling funding cuts enacted at the same time we are demanding they do more with less. Teachers feel that their hard-won health care, pension, salaries and benefits are under siege.

And some districts are suffering further because an explosion of charter schools are taking students and money away from them. This is most acute in Detroit. There, a revolving door of expensive financial managers and high-paid consultants have proven unable to fix the schools or halt the stampede away from them.

Naturally, this has led to a crisis atmosphere. I spent yesterday afternoon with the leadership of the various school districts in one of Michigan’s major counties. They believe there is an actual conspiracy against them. They think there are those who want to essentially destroy public education and turn it into a system of charter schools and vouchers, for one big reason: To get private hands on some of the thirteen billion a year Michigan spends on public education.

Whether that’s true or not, that there is a major crisis - and coincidentally, a major new report finally gets to the bottom of just why this is. There are few institutions more respected than the non-partisan, non-profit Citizens Research Council of Michigan, whose motto is this: The right to criticize government is also an obligation to know what you are talking about.

Released yesterday, the CRC’s study is called “Distribution of State Aid to Michigan Schools.” That may not sound like a sexy page-turner, but for those of us interested in saving our state, it is.

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Arts/Culture
11:05 am
Tue August 30, 2011

Books-a-Million to expand to Traverse City and 13 other locations

Books-a-Million looks to expand to Michigan and other states.
Photo courtesy of Books-a-Million

Update 9:30 a.m

Books-a-Million received the green light from a judge to take over 14 former Borders stores, including one in Traverse City. Publishers Weekly has the details on the deal:

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News Roundup
8:50 am
Tue August 30, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Tuesday, August 30th, 2011
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Welfare Assistance

Letters have started going out to the 11,000 families in Michigan who are expected to have their welfare benefits cut off on October 1st, Sarah Hulett reports. Sheryl Thompson, deputy director of field operations for the state Department of Human Services, told Hulett that state caseworkers are scheduling one-on-one appointments with people affected by the new law. Thompson says people need to know they will still be eligible for food stamps, childcare assistance, and Medicaid. Governor Snyder has not yet signed the bill which calls for a strict enforcement of a 48-month lifetime limit on case assistance benefits.

McCotter Talks Election 2012

Southeast Michigan Congressman, and Republican presidential hopeful, Thaddeus McCotter will discuss his campaign today in Lansing. “Earlier this month, the Livonia Republican opened his national campaign headquarters in Plymouth. McCotter continues to forge ahead despite finishing last in the Iowa straw poll earlier this month… He spent Saturday campaigning at the Polk County GOP picnic in Iowa and recently spoke to Republicans in New Hampshire and Illinois,” the Associated Press reports.

Lansing Property Tax Increase?

For a second time this year, Lansing voters will be asked to decide if they want to increase their property taxes, Steve Carmody reports. From Carmody:

There are fears of deep cuts in police and fire protection if the millage is rejected again. In May, Lansing voters rejected a millage increase. After that, the city laid off 47 police officers and firefighters to close a multi-million dollar budget gap. Now the city’s finance director is predicting another $12 to $15 million gap next year. Last night, the Lansing City Council voted to put a millage increase on the November ballot, with most of the money earmarked for police and fire.

Education
6:56 am
Tue August 30, 2011

Enrollment a factor in public school finances

Woodley Wonder Works Flickr

 A new report, released by the Citizen's Research Council, says declining enrollment is one reason many Michigan public schools are facing financial struggles. From the Associated Press:

About 61 percent of Michigan's 551 traditional public school districts faced some degree of declining enrollment between the state's 1995 and 2009 fiscal years...

It's an important factor because much of the state aid that goes to school districts is granted on a per-student basis. The report says about half of Michigan's school districts saw a decline in their total state aid foundation revenue between the 1995 and 2009 fiscal years once it's adjusted for inflation.

The report says the per-student gap between the state's highest and lowest funded districts has shrunk but still exists.

The 87 page report, titled Distribution of State Aid to Michigan Schools, can be found here.

Politics
10:45 pm
Mon August 29, 2011

Lansing voters asked to increase property taxes (again)

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

For a second time this year, Lansing voters will be asked to decide if they want to increase their property taxes. There are fears of deep cuts in police and fire protection if the millage is rejected again. 

 In May, Lansing voters rejected a millage increase. After that, the city laid off 47 police officers and firefighters to close a multi-million dollar budget gap. 

Now the city’s finance director is predicting another $12 to $15 million gap next year.

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Politics
6:47 pm
Mon August 29, 2011

Charges dismissed against Detroit mother involved in police standoff over daughter

Maryanne Godboldo
Justice for Maryanne Godboldo website www.justice4maryanne.com

A Judge has dismissed all criminal charges against a Detroit mother accused of firing at police when they came to remove her 13-year-old daughter.

District Court Judge Ronald Giles ruled there wasn’t enough evidence to conclude Godboldo fired at police…during a ten-hour standoff in March.

Giles also ruled the order to remove the child was invalid.

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Religion
6:20 pm
Mon August 29, 2011

As 9/11 anniversary approaches, Muslims prepare for questions

The Islamic Center of America in Dearborn
wikimedia commons

Many American Muslims are concerned that the upcoming 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks will prompt renewed attacks on their faith.

The Michigan chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) tried to counter that, with a workshop about “Presenting Islam to Fellow Americans.”

Presenters suggested Muslims speak from personal experience, and emphasize commonalities between Islam and other religious traditions.

They also addressed how Muslims should react to concerns about Sharia law.

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Politics
5:27 pm
Mon August 29, 2011

Michigan Democrats propose extending battery tax breaks

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Democrats in the Michigan Legislature say they want to revive tax incentives specifically set aside for advanced battery manufacturers.

The industry-specific tax credits are among those scheduled to be phased out under tax policy changes approved by the Republican-led Michigan Legislature and Gov. Rick Snyder.

Democrats say Monday they'll support bills that would continue the industry-specific credits for battery production, facility construction and related activities.

The Democratic plan also would include tax credits for buying electric vehicles and charging stations.

Michigan's tax credit program and federal assistance have helped several battery manufacturers get started in the state. Credits that already have been granted will be honored. But Snyder and Republicans say they don't want to pick winners and losers with industry-specific tax credit programs.

Auto/Economy
5:00 pm
Mon August 29, 2011

New York Times: "Does America need manufacturing?"

As part of GM's bankruptcy, the GM Wyoming Stamping Plant was closed in June of 2009. Auctioneers sold of the contents of the plant.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

“You can drive almost anywhere in the state of Michigan – pick a point at random and start moving – and you will soon come upon the wreckage of American industry.”

That’s the first sentence in a story in this week’s New York Times Magazine about the seismic downturn in manufacturing over the past decade and its tenuous future in the U.S.

For decades, The Times says, the federal government has largely maintained a policy of letting the marketplace dictate the economy. That is, it hasn’t propped up ailing sectors of the economy nor tinkered with aid packages to strengthen niche industries the way China and Japan have maintained active hands in shaping industry.

That’s changed in recent years under the Obama administration. Notably, the federal government rescued American automobile manufacturers and parts suppliers through approximately $82 billion in loans and other incentives. In particular, the government has delivered $2.5 billion in stimulus money to 30 or so companies exploring advanced battery technology. One White House official tells The Times the battery money goes to “the far edge” of how far the federal government is going to create new jobs and boost a nascent industry.

“It’s naïve to believe that we just have to let the markets work and we’ll have a strong manufacturing base in America,” Michigan Senator Carl Levin (D) tells The Times.

The alternative raises questions. What is the federal government’s new role in spurring industry? What’s its responsibility in ushering a transition to a knowledge-based economy? And, as The Times asks in its provocative headline, does America need manufacturing?

Auto/Economy
4:40 pm
Mon August 29, 2011

UAW President Bob King says country is "not broke"

UAW President spoke at the Detroit Economic Club in Detroit today. King addressed the nation's economy and current contract talks with Detroit automakers.

Michigan Radio's Sarah Cwiek was there.

From Cwiek's report:

UAW President Bob King says the erosion of the American middle class threatens democracy.

King addressed a largely business-friendly crowd at the Detroit Economic Club. He says the current tax system squeezes workers the most and heightens economic inequality.

King says reforming that system and investing in education should be the country’s top priorities rather than cutting spending.

"We’re not broke. So many people seem to say…commentators and others…that we are broke. But we’re not broke. We just need to figure out how to have a fairer system and use our resources better."

The Detroit Free Press reports that King criticized the Tea Party for pushing big spending cuts. King says the economy is suffering from a lack of jobs, not over-spending.

From the Free Press:

“I don’t think the lion's share of the problem is out of control government spending,” King said today at a Detroit Economic Club luncheon in Detroit. “I think our basic problem is ... that we have an extremely unfair tax system in America right now.”

In the 1950s, King said, corporate taxes accounted for 27% of the U.S. budget. By 2010, that percentage decreased to less than 10%.

The UAW is in the middle of contract negotiations with Detroit automakers.

Sarah Cwiek reported that King "held up what he calls the 'problem-solving culture' that now exists between the UAW and automakers as a model for the larger economy.

Contract talks are expected to wrap up in September, but King told the crowd that "nobody knows when we will complete."

The Detroit Free Press reports that "King’s cautious comments come two weeks after UAW Vice President Jimmy Settles said negotiations with Ford are ahead of schedule and reports last week that an early deal with General Motors is possible."

Auto/Economy
3:26 pm
Mon August 29, 2011

Poll: Most oppose changes to Michigan's no-fault personal injury protection

This morning, Michigan Radio's Lester Graham released a story highlighting what could be at stake if changes are made to the personal injury protection portion of Michigan's no-fault insurance requirements.

Michigan Senators Joseph Hune (R-22nd district) and Virgil Smith (D-4th district) have sponsored legislation that would end the mandatory personal injury protection (PIP) coverage of Michigan's no-fault auto insurance law.

It means that Michigan drivers could choose what level of personal injury protection insurance they would like to buy.

Under the bills, drivers could cap their personal injury protection insurance at $50,000 - a fraction of the coverage needed should they be in serious accident.  It would also mean they would not pay into and not be eligible for funds from the Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association fund, which makes the unlimited, lifetime benefits for people severely injured in a auto accident possible.

Now, a new poll sponsored by a group fighting these bills, the Coalition Protecting Auto No-Fault, finds the majority of Michigan voters don't want the changes.

From their press release:

The telephone survey of 600 voters by Chicago-based Glengariff Group found that 62 percent of those polled oppose limits on the amount of medical and rehabilitation care an accident victim could receive from their auto insurer; 27 percent support limits on medical and rehabilitation benefits and 11 percent were unsure. Of those opposed to limiting medical and rehabilitation auto injury benefits, 43 percent indicated strong opposition.

The Coalition's press release says "if auto insurers no longer covered injury costs for those suffering catastrophic injuries – which can cost tens of millions of dollars over the course of a lifetime – medical costs would shift from insurance companies and onto the taxpayer-funded Medicaid insurance program once family assets were depleted."

The bill to make changes to Michigan no-fault insurance law is expected to be taken up by the legislature early in September.

Environment
2:04 pm
Mon August 29, 2011

Michigan man killed by grizzly in Yellowstone

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) - Yellowstone National Park officials say a grizzly bear killed a 59-year-old Michigan man whose body was found by hikers last week.

The victim was identified Monday as John Wallace of Chassell, Mich.

Wallace's body was discovered along a trail about five miles from the nearest trailhead. Results of an autopsy released Monday concluded Wallace died as a result of traumatic injuries from a bear attack.

It is the second time a visitor to the park has been killed by a bear this year.

Economy
12:16 pm
Mon August 29, 2011

56 percent of local officials say unions are a liability to fiscal health

How do local leaders view unions? A University of Michigan survey says 56 percent of the local leaders they polled say unions are a liability to fiscal health.
UM Center for Local, State and Urban Policy

56 percent of local officials in jurisdictions that have unions believe the unions have been a liability to their jurisdictions' fiscal health, according to a survey released by the University of Michigan (43% reported "somewhat of a liability," and 13% reported "a significant liability").

The survey was conducted the Center for Local, State and Urban Policy from April 18 to June 10, 2011.

The Center says only 27 percent of Michigan's local governments have unions, but the vast majority of the state's population (98 percent) live in areas where their local governments have unionized employees.

The perception that these unions hurt a government's bottom line doesn't necessarily fall along party lines, according to the report:

Compared to Republican and Independent local leaders, Democratic officials are somewhat more positive about the fiscal impact of employee unions. But a surprisingly high 48 percent of the Democrats say unions have been a liability to their jurisdictions' fiscal health.

Thomas Ivacko told the Associated Press:

"It's a complex picture coming out from the local level," center administrator Thomas Ivacko told the AP. "Local leaders tend to say that having a union is hurting their fiscal health. . . . (But) the picture isn't all negative."

Despite the bad perception on overall fiscal health, the report says the respondents rated their relationship with the unions as generally positive:

60 percent of the local officials say the relationship between their localities and employee unions has been either good or excellent over the past 12 months, according to the statewide poll. Only 5 percent say the relationship was poor.

Commentary
9:58 am
Mon August 29, 2011

Taxing Liquor in Michigan

There are taxes, and then there are taxes. Some are straightforward. If I spend ten dollars at the hardware store this afternoon, I know I’ll pay sixty cents in sales taxes.

But other taxes are hidden, and may be higher than we suspect. The Mackinac Center for Public Policy is an independent, non-partisan think tank with a strong fiscally libertarian bias.

Last week, it released a statistical analysis of liquor prices. The center found they are higher in states like Michigan where the state government acts as the statewide wholesale distributor.

How much higher? A little over six percent. They took as their example a fifth of a particular common brand of Scotch. They found that it costs, on average, a dollar fifty-nine more a bottle in the seventeen states like Michigan where government is the wholesaler. The Mackinac Center said this amounted to, “a substantial hidden tax on a commodity already subject to large state and federal taxes.” The implication is that this is bad.

However, I’m not so sure. I suppose it would bother me more if it were a tax on baby formula, or if the tax left liquor costing twenty percent more than in Illinois, for example. But nobody forces anybody to buy a bottle of Scotch.

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Environment
9:17 am
Mon August 29, 2011

Water monitoring system in jeopardy

Lack of funds threaten to shut down a monitoring system for southeast Michigan's drinking water.
user william_warby Flickr

A system that monitors the quality of drinking water for 3 million people in southeast Michigan is in danger of being shut down for lack of money.

Monitoring stations are located in Lake Saint Clair, and the Detroit and Saint Clair rivers. Macomb County interim deputy health officer Gary White says federal and state grants, along with local money, have kept the system running since 2007:

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News Roundup
8:59 am
Mon August 29, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Monday, August 29th, 2011
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Gov Supports Hoekstra

Governor Rick Snyder will formally endorse former West Michigan Congressman Pete Hoekstra in the race for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination. The seat is currently held by Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow. “The endorsement will put the governor at odds with other Michigan Republican power players. Billionaire Betsy DeVos, Republican National Committeeman Saul Anuzis, and ex-Senator Spencer Abraham – all former GOP party chairs – are backing school choice advocate Clark Durant,” Rick Pluta reports. Former Judge Randy Hekman, anti-gay rights activist Gary Glenn, and Roscomman businessman Peter Konetchy are also vying for the GOP nomination.

Local Leaders Say Unions Have Negative Effect

A new survey by The Center for Local, State and Urban Policy at the University of Michigan shows 56 percent of local leaders think unionized workers have had a negative effect on their community’s fiscal health. The Associated Press reports:

The April 18 to June 10 survey got responses from 360 of the estimated 520 local governments in Michigan with unionized workers. It has an error margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points. The president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 25 says money lost to plunging property values and state aid reductions is responsible for local governments' financial problems, not union contracts.

Tea Party Express to Michigan

The Tea Party Express will visit Michigan later this week. “The conservative political activists hold rallies featuring fiery speeches and patriotic music… the focus will be on Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow. Levi Russell, a Tea Party spokesman, says the Tea Party group is hoping to rally local conservatives to work to defeat Stabenow’s re-election bid next year…The Tea Party Express bus tour will stop in Hillsdale and suburban Detroit next Friday and Saturday,” Steve Carmody reports.

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